Monday, October 22, 2012

Books Read in 2012: "Counter-Clock World" by Phillip K. Dick

So-so. Starts with an interesting premise: The dead are coming back to life. Not as zombies, but because time has started to move backwards. A new industry -- Vitariums (or Vitaria?) -- has come into being, whose job it is to un-earth the "deaders" as they become "old-born". From there, they are reunited with families or other interested parties. 

One of the Vitarium owners, Sebastian Hermes, who was once dead himself, un-earths the Anarch Peak, a religious figure who died a quarter-century earlier, and whose reemergence may cause complications for the current leadership of the church he founded. 

As with a lot of Dick novels, it's long on premise, short on execution. As time moves backwards, people now socially ingest "sogum", which would seem to be a kind of fecal matter (it's not made clear how they do this, but one can imagine), and eventually produce complete foods that they disgorge from their mouths in private, and ultimately return to the supermarket. They put on rumpled clothes which gradually become clean as the day wears on. They blow smoke back into cigarettes and cigars, which grow longer and longer, then are replaced into packs. And the old-born move backwards in time, getting younger and younger, until eventually they become infants that need to be implanted in wombs and reabsorbed into a woman's body, to ultimately be broken down by a sexual act. 

There's a lot you can do with a world like that. There are a lot of implications for social mores and conventions, for religion and philosophical and theological thought. That would seem to be the centerpiece of the resurrection of Anarch Peak, perhaps the first in what will prove to be a long line of religious leaders to come back, all now armed with first-hand knowledge of the after life. Once he's back, what will that mean for the church he left behind? Will he resume its rule? Will he correct its misconceptions? And what will it mean for other religions as their adherents wait for their own leaders, teachers, and messiahs to return? 

Unfortunately, the story becomes a back-and-forth tug-of-war between various factions to claim the body of the Anarch before it can be publicly know that he's returned, and not much more. There's also that wrinkle that the un-dead can die again, so these inconvenient figures from history that come back can be eradicated.

Oh, the Erads! Right. Latter-day librarians whose job is now to eradicate information instead of collect and catalog it. Why, as time moves backwards, it would really be necessary to manually destroy historical works as opposed to revise and correct them, I don't know. As part of the larger world that Dick may have conceived, maybe it was explained. Here, the Library is a powerful and entrenched institution that seems to derive its power from all of the information it controls -- and which it is systematically destroying. Which wouldn't seem like such a wise idea in the long run. But there you go.

And once again, look at all of the much cooler covers that once existed.